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Senate staffers meet Guam legislators

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by Lannie Walker

Guam - Guam senators got an audience with United States Senate staffers this morning giving them a chance to send a message back to U.S. policymakers. The military buildup was at the top of the talks. 

Following a visit to the CNMI, two Senate staffers from the Committee on Insular Affairs met with eight Guam senators at Speaker Judi Won Pat's office. According to Senator Judi Guthertz, chair of the Committee on the Military Buildup the visit was a fact-finding mission, saying, "They came as congressional staff to get information regarding the buildup various issues of interest such as infrastructure, economic issues and all the different areas that we seem to be concerned about."

A major concern for Senator Ben Pangelinan, as chair of the Committee on Appropriations is money, specifically in light of information recently released on the web site WikiLeaks that indicates numbers on the size and scope of the build up may have been misrepresented. "What we have seen in recent developments with regards to the military buildup is that the numbers to support the buildup were doctored and all of the mitigation socioeconomic impact cost to the civilian community would be doctored numbers," he said.

A master plan identifying funding programs to support mitigation costs to be submitted by the Department of Defense may need to be adjusted, according to Pangelinan. "My message to them is you have got to redo those numbers you have got to redo Environmental Impact Statement numbers, the socioeconomic impact numbers with the real costs, and not the doctored costs."

A possible China-Guam visa waiver program was also a topic discussed. Senator Tina Muna Barnes says they were told security is not the main issue. "I do know that they may work with the authorization bill to use a provision to utilize and hold some funding sources until they give that authority through," she said.

Barnes adds they sent a letter regarding the status of the authorization to Janet Napolitano in May, but have not heard back from the secretary of Homeland Security. Although the meeting was relatively brief - lasting just over an hour, according to Senator Barnes - it is progress. "At least they are listening and I am hoping that because they do a lot of the leg work to the designated representatives they can at least share our issues and concerns and move forward at least for a voice for Guam," she stated.

The staffers were not authorized to make comments to the media and while no hard decisions came out of the conference Pangelinan, too, seems to recognize the importance of the interaction. He noted, "I think they understand that I really think that is something they know and will deal with, most especially because this is the Committee over Interior Natural Resources, which the Department of the Interior falls under, which has administrative oversight over Guam."

Senators Tom Ada, Adolpho Palacios, Tony Ada, and Aline Yamashita also participated in the meeting with the Senate staffers.

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